The Stories We Tell Ourselves And What Drives Us To Action

One of the aims of November was to ask ourselves the question of “now what” in regards to some of the current issues around us. The one’s I suggested to the lead team were the new Ontario Health Curriculum, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and ISIS. You know, just small, easy to tackle things that we can wrap our heads around in half an hour.  After the news in France this week as well – this I think is a timely question to ask ourselves.

It does seem though that we aren’t going to have much time to jump into some of these topics, so this morning I thought what I would do instead is talk about why we would ever ask the question “now what” to anything that doesn’t directly relate to us. You see, when something happens directly to us, “now what” is a common question and default answer to us. If we lose our job, we say well now what are we going to do? If something bad happens to one of us, then we respond by trying to do something about it. So the asking of ‘now what’ is actually a very common and regular things that all humans ask.

However, what is not common, is to ask ‘now what’ for things that have no direct connection to us. Rarely does something happen in another country and then we ask ourselves “now what” and wonder what that means for us. When you found out about the the earthquake in Haiti, how many of you said “now what do we do?” Probably none of us. We just don’t think like that. But if you found out that your grandma’s house caved in in another country – instantly you’d be thinking about your connection and role that you would play as a response to the tragedy.

So there is things that drive us to action, and there is things that do not drive us to action. If not action, at least to be cognitively concerned and show concern or not.

Let’s get a bit more personal here then with just extremely personal events and global events. I’ve been really into Wait but Why’s blog as of late, and he makes diagrams to help explain his points which always help clarify things. So I made my own for this morning to help express what I’m getting at.

ActionRequired

This is how I want us to frame the rest of this morning and help us understand how we work. What drives us to action in a situation? Is there anything we need to consider here that we should work on changing or is this good?

I realized while putting together this Now What series, that if my diagram is even a little bit true – I can give you all the details in the world about ISIS and Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women – and if you are not close to the situation you will not feel concern and you certainly won’t be lead to take action. Millions of situations are happening a day all over the world – few of them actually cause joy or concern with us. Right now my primary way of understanding where the overlap is is that of proximity to our physical or emotional selves.

Q: What kind of things cause you to act? What kinds of things do you unconsciously ignore? Is there anything else outside of your closeness to the situation that comes to mind?

I think this is an important question to ask, and to understand what motivates us. For instance, why is it that we had a great turn-out from everyone here to build a Habitat for Humanity home, or for Men’s/Women’s groups? But when it comes to going on a mission’s trip, or doing something about the refugee presence – there is a deafening silence. Every once in awhile something comes up that is very “close” to someone else – and then they get burnt out and frustrated that the same passion and drive to action is not reciprocated.

This is one of my favourite parables.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Now let’s not look at the obvious things on the surface of this parable. That is too easy. What I think is peculiar here are the things that caused one group to show mercy to the stranger and the other group to not do those things. It clearly had nothing to do with their faith, their religion, or their morality. Those that were acting did not even know what they were doing! Those that weren’t acting were too wrapped up in something else and did not see how their inaction affected anyone. Both groups of people did not know the greater consequences, good or bad, of their actions. I think then it would be fair to suggest that why we do something isn’t always why we do something. There is other factors that play into causing us to do the things we do and to be moved to act in a situation.

A parable like this is also highly results focused. There is so little care about “why” anything is done at all. In the end, it is just about if the right thing was done or not. If not, regardless of your motivation, then you are separated accordingly. But this morning, I want to ask the why of the parable. Why is there sheep and goats? What distinguishes between them? What is that gap between the situation and our closeness to a situation? Should it be broadened? Should the graph change?

This is a frustration that I know we have all had. Where you have sort of personally crossed the threshold for wanting to get involved and act in a situation. It feels like no one else has. This graph might help explain it.

ActionRequired2

All right, let me try to explain this. In the first graph. The joy and concern area was sort of just a transition moment into action. This is the kind of situation like your grandfather dies – and your joy and concerns drives you into action instantly as you cross that threshold. They are sort of one and the same. Your life becomes altered by the collision of the closeness and the situation that not acting (whether it be mourning, planning, comforting etc) isn’t really an option, it’s just a matter of how you will act.

But this second graph complicates this more because I’m adding a second person. It is within these situations that things become increasingly more complex. And this is just by adding one more person.  It gets extremely worse with groups of people.

If you notice – the joy and concern area is no longer the black line, but an entire area. No action happens here. Action only happens when both people’s closeness to the situation is the same, and this is only a small fraction of the amount of time that the desire is there to act.

These situations are almost always situations that are perceived outside of our scope of influence and change. Like poverty, injustice, corruption, elections etc. So in these kinds of situations, most of the time spent by the individuals is spent in the “thinking” realm and not in the “acting” realm. The bigger the situation, the less it overlaps with everyone else in it’s closeness that people feel towards the situation. So many relief campaigns, political movements and things like that are really an attempt to connect situations with people’s closeness to the situation and to connect with people’s joy or concern about something to cause some sort of action.

Humans are a very unique and complex species on earth that possess a key trait that no other species has. This is the ability to tell, retain and believe stories. Things that are not real. Completely made up. We see this in absolutely everything. Think about our basic and core things that humans have in common, and then unpack them to discover that it is all completely made up. For instance look at money. Money isn’t actually a thing. Money is a story. It’s a story that we all believe in and that collective belief then gives money it’s realness. Money on it’s own, without the belief of everyone, is nothing, it’s just paper or minerals. But money is now really given it’s power and reality because we all believe in the underlying narrative of what it’s role is and what it does.

Every single thing now for humans is driven by these underlying narratives, stories about who we are and how we understand the world. Another example. Think of countries. Countries, and borders and nationalities, is just made up stories that everyone believes. When I look at the big map on my wall, I see hundreds of countries. All of it. Made up. Just stories that we believe that give us meaning and identity and connection. The stories go on and on making up everything that goes on and infusing meaning into our lives. How we understand ourselves is based solely on these stories. These could be by family identities or national ones or sports ones or religious ones or political ones. But it is these narratives that make humans unique to any other species.

So, in understanding this, I want to suggest clarifying this part of the graph. That where we have “closeness to the situation” what we are really talking about is the story that we believe and how it overlaps to the situation. Staying with closeness gives us the impression that it’s just things that happen close-by physically or emotionally. And I think this circle is really the most ambiguous that we need to understand to see how we get to this point.

ActionRequired3

So for instance. If you are a feminist, and you hold firmly to the narrative that women have not been treated well in history and continue to be unequal to men. That they have been oppressed and held down. If you are also a women and you hold these beliefs. If I make an announcement one Sunday and said that theStory hired two interns, one of them was a guy and another a girl. You then discover that we are going to pay the girl less money. As a female feminist, the outrage and the pushback and the way that you actively engage in changing the situation is going to be drastically different if you are say a male complementarian (a theology where women and men have specific roles, and a women’s role not allowed to be in leadership). A male complementarian’s response is going to be completely removed from the situation to see any action or thinking or empathy needed.

Or look at something like residential schools in Canada. When we hear stories of the horrors that went on and how the violence that the church enacted towards thousands of indigenous families. If you are from a First Nation, then you are going to be outraged and push back and demand justice be done. If you are a white male, you are going to justify reasons why this has nothing to do with you or at least justify reasons why we should let it slip from our memory and refuse to engage in any active reconciliation. There is a reason why the Truth and Reconciliation meetings that happen at Aamjiwnaang are not really attended by a whole lot of white folks.  Why does only one side of this situation want reconciliation? The prevailing narrative that drives our relationship to First Nation’s is that it wasn’t our fault, we didn’t do it and that they need to get over it.

Q: When have you seen a clear difference between two people relating and understanding the exact same situation? Are you able to see how their underlying narratives dictate how they respond or act in a situation?

[War is the main example, Israel/Palestine, Climate Change etc]

This entire conversation is why I am a Christian – and why I am part of theStory. I’ve seen that based purely on the narrative and story that I believe in about myself and my place in the world will completely dictate the way that I live and act in the world. The Christian story of Jesus and God and peace and justice and grace and love and forgiveness is a story that is so unbelievably beautiful and good and powerful that I want that to be the primary driver behind all actions that I live and do.

Of course – all of our Christianities are different. Our understandings are very different. Not just by denomination – but even in this room. My Christianity is very different than Doug’s which is very different than Michelle’s. So there is the obvious differences there that with my graph makes it even hard for us even in this room to find the overlap in our narratives that would cause us to act together towards something. The desire to do a short term missions trip is critical for some of us and completely inconsequential to others. I watched Doug and New Horizons for many years try to work towards aligning his congregation’s narratives so that there was better overlap that would lead to action towards things that his narrative said was important. A lot of this sermon came from watching this disheartened looks on people’s faces when they realize that the overlap that they thought should be there, wasn’t.

The Christian story, is so full of beautiful narratives that should have us spinning in so many directions and ‘acting’ in so many situations. The Christian story is one that stands up for the oppressed, sides with the marginalized, forgives our enemies and finds powerful ways to love each other. It is a powerful story of reconciliation and longing for justice that has been watered down so much that the only thing is causes in us anymore is stress for attending a church service once a week.

We need to reclaim this story and make it our own, and the overlap will come where we can move and act together. Injustice should infuriate us. Love should drive us. Grace should grease the wheels of all of our interactions.

Unless this story takes hold in our lives and our hearts, we will only be brought to act based on the other stories. Power, Revenge, Hopelessness, Despair, Pleasure, Entitlement – these narratives are strong and persuasive and there is lots of overlap with them.

Our story should be at least somewhat similar. And our efforts here on Sunday morning are our attempts to have us better align those stories, so that there will be more overlap with the things that we do together to act into situations that we find ourselves in. They say that the opposite of love, is not hate, but indifference. And it is not difficult to see the amount of indifference towards so many things that we are surrounded by each day as we all hunker down and focus on the things that matter to us. But love, drives us to act, to move forward and work inside these situations and bring love and peace wherever we go.

Let’s Pray

Steep us in your story
Let it shower over us and infiltrate the darkest parts
Let it uncover a new way forward
May we see the overlap and connection between our lives and your story
So that we may act together for justice and peace

Amen.

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